Indian River Life-Saving Station
Delaware Seashore State Park
Rehoboth Beach, DE

October 12th, 2007

The closing of the Civil War brought an end to the reports of death and carnage. This allowed other tragedies to get attention.  Although the age of the iron hull ship and steam had arrived, many old wooden sailing ships still plied their trade along the Eastern seaboard.  An unexpected storm or a Captain's bad choice sent many of these ships crashing into the rocks. The rescue of the unfortunates stranded aboard, so close, yet so far away from land and safety, became a concern of the Federal Government.  In 1876 the United States Life-Saving Service (USLSS) was established.  All up and down the Eastern seaboard,  stations were established at intervals of from 4 to 7 miles. They were manned by a Keeper and from 6 to 8 hardy, local brave men who had a good knowledge of local tides and obstacles off shore.  During the "storm the Indian River Life-saving Stationseason" of September through April these "surfmen" were paid 10 dollars a month to stand by at the station, keep watch for ships in distress, and rescue those in need.  It was a dangerous and daring adventure, not for the faint of heart.  With the Delaware coastline being some of the most dangerous on the Eastern seaboard, the Indian River Station was one of the first built. It was completed in 1876 and served with distinction until 1915 when the (USLSS) merged with the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service to from the present day U. S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard continued to use the station until 1962, when it was abandoned. It is estimated that the US Lifesaving Service surfmen saved some 177,000 lives over a 44 year period from 1871 to 1915. Over time the buildings deteriorated and had it not been for a group of concerned citizens, it might have been lost completely.  But this was not to be its fate.  The Seashore Washington A. VickersPreservation Foundation completely restored the station and it was opened to the public in 1998. As magnificent as the restoration was, without a story to tell, a building is just a building.  The writing of the story of Indian River station can be, for the most part, credited to one man.  Washington A. Vickers, the Indian River Station Keeper from 1883 to 1907.  His meticulous well penned entries in the station log gives an insight to successes and failures that made up life at the station.  W.A. Vicker's life began in Seaford Delaware in 1842. By the time he was 20, war was raging between the States.  He joined the Confederacy at Richmond and served in the Maryland Infantry until shot at Gettysburg.  After an  extended stay in a hospital, he was returned to duty but the wound was too severe for him to keep up and he was sidelined to a medical unit until the end of the war.  At the end of the war he took his oath of amnesty and returned to Delaware.  He started his surfman's career in 1878 at Hog Island station and then moved to the Assataegue station, and then on toThe mess room Indian River.

The first room we came to, upon entering the station was the "Mess Room".  This room, like many in the house has been meticulously restored to its 1905 condition.  Although there are few artifacts remaining that were actually used at Indian River, most came from surrounding life-saving stations along the Delaware coast.  I sat down at the table that must have seen a many a meal over a lively conversation of the last great rescue or the up and coming beach patrols.  The meals would have been prepared on the small stove behind me, from food stores kept either in the white "ice box" under the "crank phone" or in the pantry who's door is atLaura on the crank phone the left side of the back wall. As often occurred in hazardous jobs there were certain superstitions which existed in the job.  One such superstition may have come from a 1899 USLSS regulation which read in part: "
A Keeper will not desist from his efforts until by actual trial the impossibility of effecting a rescue is demonstrated.  The statement of a Keeper that he did not try to use the boat because the sea or surf was to heavy will not be accepted unless attempts to launch it were actually made and failed."  The Cape Hatteras Life-saving station's log gives credit to Keeper Patrick Etheridge who was the first to utter "The Book says we've got to go out and it doesn't say a darn thing about having to come back" A fact that is born out in the actual regulation.  His comment, thus recorded, soon became an unofficial Motto for the Life-saving service. The superstition that the mess room table had to be set at all times, insuring that there was a place to eat for everybody who went out on a rescue, may have come from this motto. The station phone was one of the first phones in the area.  Many rescues required more men than a station had and the call would go out to adjacent stations to come and help.